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jewel box / jewel-box

fairing. A present given or purchased at a fair. — Webster, 1882

There was a Christmas tree at the Church on Tuesday evening. Presents flowed freely. – Walnut Station items, Currie (Minnesota) Pioneer, December 26, 1878

Small porcelain trinket boxes, match holders, and similarly-themed figurines were common purchases or prizes at country fairs during the time of the Little House books. These pieces were typically made in Germany by Conta & Boehme (and others competing for the market) and were of varying quality and detail. Figurines were often humorous and displayed some sort of text, but animals were also common. It’s possible that Carrie Ingalls’ little china dog and Ma’s china shepherdess were also fair pieces.

Laura’s white china jewel box with the gold teapot and gold cup and saucer on top was a more utilitarian piece than Carrie’s, meant to hold a ring or brooch on one’s dressing table. Now on display at the museum at Rocky Ridge, Laura’s trinket box has a large piece broken out of it and what is probably a spot on top where another china cup and saucer or milk jug was attached. Since Laura only mentioned the pot and one cup in On the Banks of Plum Creek, it’s possible that the box came to Laura that way. Although Christmas tree gifts were usually proved by friends and family members to be distributed during a party, as area newspapers suggest, Wilder’s text suggests that at least some of the presents had come out of a missionary barrel. This would suggest that the jewel box was a donation from a stranger, either at Reverend Alden’s former church in Waseca or elsewhere.

I’ve yet to see an exact copy of Laura’s trinket box. The one in the photo above is of a better quality than Laura’s and features more pieces (Laura’s box is shown at right). When searching online auction or photo sites, look for “Staffordshire fairing trinket box” or “Conta and Boehme fairing trinket box.” I purchased the trinket box below because I liked the watch on top. There is just the tiniest bit of gilding left on it.

Note: The teapot was a symbol of the temperance movement, of which the Ingallses were staunch supporters. It’s unknown if Reverend Alden or the Ingalls family ever made this reference in connection with Laura’s gift.


jewel box / jewel-box (BPC 31, 37-38; SSL 29; LTP 2)